The Malta Independent 23 September 2019, Monday

TMID Editorial: Migration in the Mediterranean - So it’s not a taxi service after all

Thursday, 16 May 2019, 09:24 Last update: about 5 months ago

With immigration being such a hot potato issue during this European parliamentary election campaign, yesterday's ruling from the courts of Catania is welcome news indeed, and it should also serve as a wake-up call.

The courts of Catania yesterday put paid to Italian Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini's insistence that the NGOs out there rescuing people are engaging in some sort of criminal activity, that they are basically providing a taxi service and that they are in cahoots with the human traffickers.

A preliminary investigations judge in Catania, after an investigation spanning over a year, yesterday shelved an investigation into the Spanish NGO ProActiva Open Arms' captain and mission chief. The pair was under investigation on charges of criminal association associated with illegal immigration for taking 218 migrants they had rescued off Libya in March 2018 to Pozzallo in March 2018.

So it transpires that the NGOs out there rescuing the people who find themselves in distress and at the mercy of the cruel sea are not in league with the human traffickers, and the narrative that the right wing fanatics such as Salvini is, in actual fact, utterly false.

Now we in Malta can also stop with the narrative.

The verdict comes almost bang on cue for the European parliamentary elections for which - most particularly in places like Italy and Malta, which have, it must be said, unfairly borne the brunt of one migration crisis after another - the migration issue is a major polling issue.

In fact, if there is one single issue that affects the whole of the EU, that issue is immigration and the multiple stances adopted by the bloc's multiple states.

Also bag on cue, this time most unfortunately, was yesterday's new standoff between Malta, Italy and a migrant rescue ship.  The Sea-Watch, no stranger and indeed a victim of political struggles, had rescued dozens of men, women and children and which, at the time of writing yesterday, had not had any answer from Malta or Italy to its calls for assistance or to allow it a port of call.

This is, once again, history repeating itself and just in time for the issue to potentially explode on the electoral stage here in Malta, Italy and possibly even further afield.  If no one takes them in, this will, like in situations past, become an ad hoc situation with Malta, or perhaps Italy going around Europe - with hand outstretched like a beggar asking for alms - for others to help share the burden.

This, of course, is a mater to be solved on a pan-European level, and such solutions, unfortunately, appear to be in short supply even though summer, its clement weather, calmer seas and associated peak migration season is now just around the corner.

But beyond EU solutions to EUI problems, Malta should be handling situations just a little more humanely since, we continue to argue despite the flack we receive for it, the majority of the Maltese population has its moral compass set in place and are humanitarian at heart.

Arguments to the contrary are only cases of those barking loudest being heard the most.

Perhaps the more decent, well-meaning segments of our society need to do a little more barking themselves.

That could be done in a possible upcoming appeal to the case in which the Maltese authorities had the audacity to press ahead with the charges against the captain of another rescue vessel, the Lifeline, who was this week charged €10,000 on a technicality, despite numerous protests from Germany, the NGOs home country.

Or, even better, it could the case in which the Maltese authorities are also pressing ahead with charges against the teenagers who hijacked the commercial vessel that had rescued them once they realised they were being brought back to the hell that is the Libya which they had just fled.  And they are doing so even after the United Nations had implored the Maltese authorities to stand down and drop the charges in the name of humanity.

But apart from barking, the ultimate bite, that which the authorities will take the most note of at the end of the day, is that which they can deliver on 25 May at the polling booths.

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